The Great Waltz (1938) Poster

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One of the great MGM musicals
frankd-612 January 2000
THE GREAT WALTZ is one of the all-time great musicals with memorable orchestrations of its magnificent music, beautiful, swirling cinematography, Luise Rainer at her heartbreaking best and Miliza Korjus outrageously divine in performance and voice. The plot adroitly mixes music, smaltz and sentiment with several scenes of heartbreaking, dramatic power. This movie is an absolute joy, a treasure to be seen and enjoyed year after year.
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Great Music providing Fine Entertainmant
dougandwin10 August 2004
Before I started these comments, I first read many of the others made by a wide range of people - I was amazed to find that some were reading far too much into the storyline,( which everyone who has seen the movie knows it is pure hokum) or belittling the film for its treatment of the life of Johann Strauss. Why not go and see it, and enjoy the sheer entertainment of the Music, the acting of Luise Rainer, the voice of Miliza Korjus (who will ever forget her rendition of "One Day When We Were Young" - who cares if Strauss did or did not write it!), So "The Tales from the Vienna Woods" was written overnight - does it matter that free licence was taken, surely the name of the game is to entertain, and this film does that. Hugh Herbert and Lionel Atwill add fun and spice to one of the more entertaining musicals of the 1930's.
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The dream of Vienna
Michael Bo7 May 2004
I was prepared to find that Julien Duvivier, maestro of such astonishing French pictures as 'Pépé le Moko' and 'Carnet de bal', had sold out completely to Hollywood, but actually 'The Great Waltz' blew me away.

Yes, the story is utter hokum and bears only superficial similarity to the actual Johann Strauss II or the the Vienna of his time. Why is that a surprise to some? It's a given! Hollywood was always like that, now as ever. What Duvivier does manage to convey is the dream of Vienna, the illusory magic of the city that was the capital of musical Europe, and thereby of the world.

Duvivier made this amazing film with attention to every detail, the smallest character performance, even the extras have obviously been minutely directed. The film is always stylistically innovative, the editing fast-paced and often surprising, the style whirling, ecstatic, dynamic, and at all times slightly camp. There are so many show-stopping scenes in the film that I wouldn't even know where to start listing them. The script is wonderful, the dialogue consistently funny, interiors are luminous, the cinematography revolutionary and clearly related to what Rouben Mamoulian was doing in Hollywood in the early 1930's.

The actors? Absolutely great. Fernand Gravey does a fair job, but the two women shine above everything else. Polish coloratura soprano Miliza Korjus sings the Strauss songs in a way that admittedly sound rather corny and old-fashioned today, but as an actress, playing the opera diva that Strauss is two-timing his wife with, she is gorgeously wicked, one of the most glamourous beings even in the Hollywood of the 30's. But even she is overshadowed - by Luise Rainer who, in this picture, can do no wrong in a part that is very, very hard to make substantial. She is Strauss' long-suffering, unselfish wife, but there is absolutely no melodrama in her performance. The evolution of the chararacter that is Poldi Strauss is extremely well-calculated, and she remains the centre, the gravity of the picture. And when we think that now she has suffered long enough, she says, "Now is not a time to lie down, now is time to act!".

Forget all petty reservations and brace yourselves for a real treat, a film that time has all but forgotten, but a masterpiece none the less.
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Tale of the Vienna composer...and what gorgeous music!!
Neil Doyle14 May 2001
This fictional account of Johann Strauss' life is highlighted by one of the most exquisite scenes in musical history--far from real of course--in which the composer and an operatic diva are driven through the woods in horse and buggy while the countryside comes alive with the sound of music. The pastoral beauty of the scene itself combined with the intricate way 'Tale of the Vienna Woods' is woven into the musical scene (as composer Strauss begins humming the tune along with his diva friend) is just one of the charming highlights of this MGM musical.

Swirling waltzes are captured with such superb angles in the Oscar-winning camerawork, it's no wonder David O. Selznick was impressed enough to insist that his own technical staff derive inspiration from viewing the film.

Soprano Miliza Korjus does some excellent trills as the operatic diva who steals Strauss from his wife (temporarily) until the obligatory happy ending. Luise Rainer suffers gracefully (in an insufferable role as the wife!!) and Fernand Gravet does well as the composer. His scenes with Miliza Korjus are what makes the film the gem that it is. She all but steals the film and was nominated for a Supporting Actress Oscar and then disappeared from the American scene, returning to Europe to resume her operatic career.
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The Great Waltz is Wunderbar
guidon72 January 2005
Perhaps the number one Hollywood musical film of all time. "Gorgeous Korjus" was coined and used by Louis B. Mayer to promote her film career, which understandably would be short. Not only is she gorgeous in GW but turns in an excellent acting performance which drew an academy award nomination. Her acting role rivals or exceeds consummate actress and two-time academy award winner, Luise Reiner. Displaying the temperament of a real primadonna, Miss Korjus turns on her good and bad sides when you least expect it. Vocal waltzes are extremely difficult to sing and Korjus with her coloratura soprano does admirably. Frenchman Fernand Gravet is believable as Strauss (as far as the film is believable) and ably supported by the likes of Lionel Atwill and Hugh Herbert along with many others, few of whom have a Teutonic accent, but we still have a romantic view of old Vienna. It is not a factual biography, which is stated at the beginning of the film, but there are elements of truth in the composite of Strauss the Elder and Strauss the younger as performed by Gravet (Strauss the Younger was a womanizer and while married actually had a liaison with an opera singer, among others). The Vienna Woods segment is pure joy. Strauss playing Tales from the Vienna Woods on his violin and Carla Donner singing in accompaniment's, their whirling dancing, ending up on the ground, where Strauss goes no further and wistfully admits "Carla, I'm married." The audience, I think, expects a tantrum from Donner at this revelation, but she gracefully takes it in stride and fools us once again with her unpredictability! This scene, to me, was the high point of an exceptional film of the type we shall never see again.
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My opinion about the movie The Great Waltz.
Esierra24 February 2005
I own a VHS copy of The Great Waltz. I have seen this movie I don't know how many times! I was very young when I saw the movie for the first time, and it made a great impact on me and ever since then, I feel the urge to look and hear the magnificent singer and actress that, in my opinion takes the first place in this movie: MILIZA KORJUS. I have managed to collect ALL her recordings, I think., but I never saw the movie as a political issue or as they say here, as anti Nazi film! Nothing of the sort! To me it's a delightful movie and a great vehicle for the display of the many talents of Miliza Korjus and also for the rest of the cast and the romanticism involved in the whole movie.
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Great music can sometimes send you to a place between Heaven and Earth
cellinitwo20 September 2002
My wife and I viewed this picture on TV 9/20/02. The acting by all was so real and the music, the settings, and the singing by M. Korjus so incredibly beautiful it brought tears for the shear emotion as the story unfolded. I recommend this movie to anyone needing an uplifting of spirit, so poignant as to bring tears enough to cry away your troubles and to anyone who enjoys movies of such caliber as are so few these days. Bravo
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By Strauss!
jotix10013 January 2006
Julien Duvivier, the great French director, had a brief career in Hollywood during WWII. Alas, the movies he was involved with, didn't fare as well as the ones he did in France. It must have been difficult for a man of his stature to try his hand at film making in America because of problems with artistic control of his pictures and the way things were done in Hollywood.

"The Great Waltz" was a fine example of what M. Duvivier could do. This glorious 1938 MGM film was one of the most loved films of that period. Not only that, but even if the subject matter, Johann Strauss' life was not accurate, at least his great music is heard in the film. The exquisite art direction Cedric Gibbons gave the picture and the beautiful costumes from Adrian made this a favorite of the movie going public of that time.

The life of the struggling musician who had a lot of talent, but whose music was a departure from what has been heard in Vienna before him, was something movies loved to tell. Whether or not this was a true account of the composer's life, it's still a visually rich film.

Fernand Fravey as Strauss gives a good performance. Luise Ranier makes the suffering and self-sacrificing Poldi, one of her best creations. The true star of the film though, is Milizia Korjus, who as the gorgeous soprano Carla Donner steals the show with her singing and her looks. Hugh Herbert, Alma Kruger, Curt Bois, and the rest of the cast do great work for Julien Duvivier.

"The Great Waltz" is a film that's not seen often these days and it's a shame because it's an excellent excuse for going back to that period and the great music Strauss gave to the world.
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One of my absolute all time favorite movies!
richardjstanford7 April 2002
A perfect and absolute delight from beginning to end. The great music of Johann Strauss is performed in such beautiful, elaborate settings! MGM reproduced Vienna and the era perfectly. It is too bad this was the only film in which Miliza Korjus appeared. Such a magnificent voice and charming personality! The carriage ride in the Vienna Woods and that final, unbelievable, note she holds for what seems like eternity are never to be forgotten. Luise Rainer is wonderful and could always convey such emotion without ever uttering a word. Perfect casting, with so many great character actors in supporting roles.
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What A Glorious Discovery!!!!
Enrique Sanchez19 November 2007
A very long time ago, I gave up on Hollywood being accurate with biographies let alone bios of composers! So, tonight I sat down to watch TCM's Guest Programmer by a REAL operatic diva, Renee Fleming first choice. I just cannot believe that I have lived 51 years and have never heard of this movie or even seen a snippet anywhere! In just the first exciting music sequence I was witnessing a miracle! I remember so well when the millennium's Moulin Rouge came out a few fuddy-duddy friends of mine called it outrageous because of its frenetic pace! (Apparently, they had never seen THIS movie which was made in 1938 not in 2001!) The frenetic pace of the SUPERLATIVE cinematography alone is worthy of one viewing of this miraculously beautiful movie! All of the principal players were just so good...sure this is an old-fashioned way of acting - so what! (I tell you, some reviewers don't have any idea about the history of acting and film by the way they so trash older movies and their "quaint" ways.) Oh yes...and the music, the music, THE MUSIC!!!!!!!!!!! What a glorious discovery! I thank Renee, Robert, TCM and Charles Nelson Reilly (wherever he is) for recommending this movie to Renee! If you don't like this - then you need medical checkup quickly!
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Three-Quarter Tome
writers_reign6 January 2007
Warning: Spoilers
As a great admirer of Julien Duvivier and now, at last, having seen The Great Waltz some 60 plus years after it was made I can't help wishing that Duvuvuer had been tempted to Hollywood by something a little more substantial. I don't, of course, know the circumstances but given the horror stories about Hollywood moguls that we were weaned on it's not difficult to imagine a discussion in which the reasoning is 'we're doing a movie about an Austrian waltz king set in Vienna and up to here in schmaltz so why don't we get that French guy who did those things about tough guys in Africa (La Bandera, Pepe Le Moko) and the Popular Front (La Belle Equipe). Great idea, boss, let's get a cable off toot sweet. I wasn't there at the time but with hindsight it's ludicrous that Duvivier followed his masterpiece (just one of his masterpieces actually) Un Carnet du bal with this dross although there is a kind of left-handed logic given that Un Carnet du bal concerned a woman's treasured memories of her first ball where the prevailing mood would have been three-quarter time. Sixty-odd years later trying to look past the wooden Gravet and the 'stage' Austrian accents (ah, Shhsstrrowss) personified by Sig Ruman in the opening scene we're able to salvage the sure-footed direction and directorial touches of Duvivier and see what today looks hokey - the ride in the Vienna woods in which every sound is a musical note contributing to the instant composition Tales Of The Vienna Woods - as the magical sequence it must have seemed to a world hungry for escapism with a major conflict waiting in the wings. Likewise the quicksilver crochets and quavers that dance over an inept bank clerk's ledger in the opening scene - indeed the economy which in that same scene delineates Strauss as a frustrated musician trapped in a world of finance. Known to me more as the wife of another great writer, Clifford Odets, than an actress, Luise Rainer has little to do in the emoting stakes but Duvivier does use her effectively in the scene at the Opera House when he shows us how insignificant is a mere wife against ART, personified in this case by the mighty Opera House, the performers and, of course, Composers. I'm glad I saw it - and indeed now own it thanks to a generous French friend, but I'll be watching both Un Carnet du bal and the film Duvivier made immediately after The Great Waltz, La Fin du jour, much more than returning to this.
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THE GREAT WALTZ (Julien Duvivier and, uncredited, Victor Fleming and Josef von Sternberg, 1938) ***1/2
MARIO GAUCI16 March 2011
A classic Oscar-winning Musical which rather than a proper biopic of Austrian composer Johann Strauss II can be dubbed 'A Fantasia on the Life and Loves of The Waltz King'. Curiously, one wonders why Hollywood deemed it necessary to make not one but three films about him – the others being the Walt Disney version THE WALTZ KING (1963) and Andrew L. Stone's maligned 1972 remake of the movie under review (virtually contemporaneously to it, Stone had already made THE GREAT VICTOR HERBERT [1939]); unfortunately, I did not manage to track down copies of them for comparison's sake!

In this respect, with MGM behind it, the original was turned into an all-stops-out production – amassing the best talent that money could buy to provide lavish production values complementing the famous musical pieces. Still, in one of Hollywood's endearingly odd decisions, the project was handed to a French director (Duvivier's first of 8 films made in the English language over the course of 12 years) and star (Fernand Gravet, whose career abroad began 5 years prior to this and ran practically till the end of his life): a Viennese Waltz may epitomize romance but, in Hollywood's eyes, the finest purveyors of that sentiment were the Gallics! In front of the camera, however, the studio was just as eclectic – with the roster of character actors emanating from Germany (Curt Bois, Herman Bing and Sig Rumann), Russia (Leonid Kinskey), Britain (Lionel Atwill) and even the American Deep South (Henry Hull)…and there were even two international female stars in German Luise Rainer (still living at the venerable old age of 101!) and Polish Miliza Korjus.

Gravet makes for a vigorous Strauss (called "Schani" throughout!): we hear the composer's most durable pieces (which I grew up watching as underscoring for Tom & Jerry and Looney Tunes cartoons boasting a classical music setting!), apart from a few songs performed by Korjus (though her yodeling became grating after a while!) set to new lyrics by none other than Oscar Hammerstein II. We even get to 'learn' how "Tales From The Vienna Woods" and "The Blue Danube" were conceived: the former when Gravet and Korjus take respite from the revolution amidst the green in Christian Rub's coach, with the bustling activity therein – a superbly orchestrated scene (no pun intended) – inspiring Strauss; the latter has the composer sitting forlorn at the docks after Korjus leaves him behind (to be able to return to devoted wife Rainer) and once again the city, its workers and nature itself combine to fire up his creative spirits…which then dissolves to practically the whole world dancing to its strains!

Along with Grace Moore from ONE NIGHT OF LOVE (1934), Korjus was the only soprano to be Oscar-nominated: whatever Sternberg's contribution here, he had directed Moore herself in the recently-viewed THE KING STEPS OUT (1936) – which also featured an even more animated Bing, whereas Atwill had co-starred in the director's upcoming THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN (1935). That said, Rainer acts Korjus off the screen (thankfully, however, the plot only slips into melodrama during its last act): pity that she had just won 2 Oscars, one of them for another MGM Musical biopic which also happened to have the epithet "great" in its title! The film deservedly won for Joseph Ruttenberg's exquisite black-and-white cinematography – especially effective are the rays of light passing though the tree branches in the Vienna woods, the sweeping camera move as Gravet and Korjus dance along the city square to the same tune, and Atwill's shadowy confession to Rainer towards the end. It was also nominated for editing: notable in this respect are the two series of quick cuts (unusual for the time) depicting the emptying town square and Rainer's anguished appearance at the opera, but also the transition from the common Viennese people enthusiastically dancing in the streets (to Strauss' latest composition) to a sedate high society ball.

Finally, as a side-note, it is incongruous that Austria could produce romantics like Strauss and master film-maker Max Ophuls (who celebrated Vienna in much of his work), visionary directors like Fritz Lang and Sternberg himself…but also a certain bloodthirsty dictator named Adolf Hitler!
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The Best MacDonald-Eddy Musical That Jeanette And Nelson Never Made.
tjonasgreen16 January 2006
If there is a genre in which even die-hard contemporary fans of old movies seldom care to delve, it is the once-popular musical operetta. I have steeled myself to watch several Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy movies, and have occasionally been pleasantly surprised, as in my first viewing of ROSE MARIE. I recently caught THE GREAT WALTZ on TCM as part of a festival of Luise Rainer movies, and despite myself I was won over by the skill of the director as well as the opulence of the production.

Miss Rainer's charms elude me. She was pretty and not a bad actress by any means and yet the clammy, self-congratulatory air of masochism and eye-brimming sadness of each of her performances is hard to take. Even when you have to admit that she isn't bad in a given scene, she is insufferable, sometimes almost unwatchable. And she had her most cringing, masochistic and melodramatic role in this picture as the long-suffering wife of a faithless Strauss as played by a puffy Fernand Gravey.

It is Gravey and Miliza Korjus that are the real stars of the film, and this is curious to a modern viewer since neither had the classic good looks of movie stars of the period. What they did have was a stars' confidence and because of the considerable imagination of Julien Duvivier, you believe them as a romantic couple and as stars intoxicated with their own love and talent.

But what is impressive about THE GREAT WALTZ is the way Duvivier transforms potentially dull and static numbers into surreal flights of fantasy. He isn't afraid to be delirious or silly so a few set-pieces unexpectedly catch your attention, make you laugh and then impress you with their theatricality and verve. Such is the orgasmic waltz sequence that takes place in and around a bandstand in the Vienna Woods in which Korjus decisively seduces Gravey. It is Duvivier's attention to detail that makes it: the way Korjus jackknifes to the ground in Gravey's arms and removes her organdy picture hat, the gorgeous line of trees hung with Japanese lanterns on a moonlit set, the way she staggers and tumbles onto the grass after her trilling climax, inviting greater liberties (despite the all-girl orchestra looking on), all of these images make the scene breathless, ludicrous, memorable.

And just because we have blessedly forgotten Strauss's dreary wife, Duvivier concocts a spectacular scene for Rainer too: publicly confronted by her husband's faithlessness, she hurriedly dresses in silks and crinolines determined to kill herself or someone else on the night of his opera debut. Sweeping out of their huge house and down their long staircase to the strains of a waltz, sweeping into a baroque opera house and up an even longer set of steps, she stops, awestruck while several jump cuts reveal the enormity and grandeur of the theatre, the rapt audience and the triumph of her rival, who defiantly swirls into a lavish stage waltz. In contrast, Rainer's smiling-through-tears routine afterward seems an anti-climax, though it is an admirable piece of showmanship and hugely entertaining despite a shrill note of barely controlled hysteria she has cultivated throughout the sequence. Or maybe because of it. Rainer's few strengths as an actress are utterly linked to her considerable weaknesses.

So I'm now not surprised to learn of this film's great success at the time, though I do wonder why the Mac-Eddy productions never got as creative a craftsman as Duvivier to plan and film their pictures. If he had they might be more widely admired today beyond the group of fast-ageing fans who first loved them in the '30s. But maybe nothing can revive interest in this most unfashionable of movie genres.
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Duvivier's holiday homework.
dbdumonteil27 October 2006
Sandwiched,in Duvivier's oeuvre,between two absolute masterpieces "Un carnet de Bal" and the overlooked "La fin du Jour" (some kind of French "Sunset Blvd" ) where the director's pessimism reaches new heights ,"The great waltz " ,unlike another movie made in Hollywood "Flesh and fantasy" cannot be looked upon as a "film d' Auteur".

It's impersonal but it nevertheless displays Duvivier's extraordinary eclecticism."The great waltz" is a good work,made with care and taste and shows that Duvivier could have been a great musicals director,if he had wanted to.Half of the movie consists of instrumentals or songs,which makes sense,for it is a movie dealing with Strauss's life.His private life does not interest that much Duvivier who avoids the traps of a linear biography.However,there are snatches of melodrama towards the end,mainly in the scenes between the moving Luise Rainer and Miliza Korjus in the theater.Fernand Gravey (spelled "Gravet" in the cast and credits)is the only French actor here.He had begun his American career with Mervyn LeRoy in 1937.

All the musical scenes are dazzling ;the "blue Danube" treatment is excellent,a waltz which would be used by dozens of directors,from Renoir ("Boudu Sauvé des Eaux" ) to Kubrik ("2001" ) to Cimino ("Heaven's gate"). Other good sequence: Strauss composing a new tune while he is hearing a horse' s trot.
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Great Old Musical
wuxmup6 October 2006
The Great Waltz proves that, once upon a time, Hollywood knew how to make terrific musicals. And, make no mistake, this hokey fantasy set in a world that could never really have existed is a great musical. Why it isn't better known beats me.

Fernand Gravet, as waltz king Johann Strauss, may be a bit anemic as a leading man by today's standards of intensity and brawn, but his quite adequate performance is far overshadowed by the dramatic turn of Luise Rainer as his faithful wife and by the magnificent singing of ultra Miliza soprano Miliza Korjus who essentially steals the show.

The music is fantastic, the dancing nearly psychedelic. The sequence in the Vienna Woods is very silly and very beautiful. The black-and-white photography becomes nearly as eloquent as color.

Even if you don't think you Strauss waltzes and opera singing, give The Great Waltz a try. You won't be sorry.
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Consider If This Were Made Today
dgz7817 February 2006
Watching this just now on TCM I couldn't help but think how this movie would be made in 2006. Strauss would be a rapper and his wife would be his ***** and he'd have a stable of girls to cheat on, not just one. Instead of breaking down on the steps outside the opera house, his wife would key his Escalande and everything would be played out on MTV - "Pimp My Waltz". Thank God for the studio system of the 30's.

The first thing you notice about this movie is how important a director can be. Duvivier frames his shots in ways that a lot of directors today would never think of. How do hacks like Chris Columbus keep cashing paychecks but you can't find ten people in Hollywood that would recognize Duvivier's name. The shot of Luise Ranier arriving at the opera house and the Tales Of The Vienna Woods should be studied in every film class at USC.

How faithful is this to the real Strauss story? Who cares! No one going to a movie in 1938 was expecting to see a documentary. Strauss was apparently not the most faithful husband but who cares.

Someone made the point that the movie should be seen as a metaphor for The Anschluss. While this is interesting and may very well be true, usually these are things viewers pick up that were never considered by the writers. So many movies can be seen as metaphors - think about Star Wars or 2001 - that the writers were probably just trying to write an interesting movie. Should The Terminator be a warning to mankind about the dangers of technology? Yeah, but I think Cameron was just trying to put a good story on the screen. If The Great Waltz is a metaphor for The Anschluss, I think it would have gone over every head sitting in the movie theaters. It reminds me of Dan Brown seeing all these clues in Davinci's works that have escaped detection for hundreds of years. What's the point of making a point that it is so subtle as to be invisible? I think someone asked Sherwood Schwarz if Gilligans Island was a metaphor for the different classes of people in America having to learn to live together and Schwarz just laughed. Even if everyone involved in the movie were alive today, who knows if they would be honest about a metaphor intent - after all it's easy to look prescient after the fact.

Enjoy the movie for the talent on the screen. They will never make a movie like this today.
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Outstanding Musical Classic
whpratt119 November 2007
Luise Rainer, (Poldi Vogelhuber) gave an outstanding performance with her great singing talents and great acting. Fernand Gravey, (Johann Strauss gave a great supporting role in this 1938 black and white film. If you like great Strauss Waltz's and a very romantic picture concerning what inspired Strauss to compose his famous waltz's and also an affair he has with Poldi. Count Anton Hohenfried, (Lionel Atwill) gives a great supporting role as the other man who is in love with Poldi and even goes to Richard Strauss wife and tells her what is going on and tells her to fight for her husband. There is plenty of comedy and great scenes with men and women dancing with fancy dresses and large dance halls. This is a must see great Classic Film which will be enjoyed by many generations to come.
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A Glorious Movie with an Extraordinary High Soprano
limbovt12 November 2009
This movie is extraordinarily elegant in all regards. Most particularly we can thank the high fidelity of movies from that era for preserving such a glorious voice as that of Miliza Korjus. Other recording media of the time could never reveal the incredible quality of her voice. Korjus performs at a level that contemporary high sopranos can only aspire to. Without this movie, we would never know what she really sounded like. Her voice is perfectly suited to the works of Johann Strauss II, on whose life this movie is based, Hollywood style of course.

The music, setting, characters, lyrics, theme, and photography are superb. Lyrics are by Oscar Hammerstein II no less. This movie is nothing short of breathtaking. You would have to be tone deaf and blind to not adore this movie.

Strauss suffers under the choice between his beautiful, understanding wife and the vivacious intoxication of the diva, Carla Donner (Korjus). For any man who truly appreciates her voice, it would indeed be an onerous choice. Luise Rainer plays Strauss' wife, Pauldi, likewise intoxicating in her lovely softness and a match for the other woman.
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so much fun and music
bjbjmca19 May 1999
I saw this movie 50 years ago and had to wait 50 years to see it again (Turner Classic Movies). It brought back memories ah...
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Great Movie in its Atmosphere
Marcin Kukuczka2 March 2014
With the very intentions of the director, Julien Duvivier, and his crew attempting to dramatize Strauss' spirit rather than facts from his life, it appears to be no surprise to notice how deeply THE GREAT WALTZ is rooted in the convention of the 1930s. If you await some biographical outline, some educational content, forget it. Simply the movie excludes such expectations from the very beginning. But is it something that we could totally contrast with Marvin J Chomsky's wonderful STRAUSS DYNASTY?

THE GREAT WALTZ is a fairy tale, dreamlike movie where music bursts out in unforgettable enthusiasm, love is in the air of peaceful Vienna Woods, a little saccharine charm accompanies the elaborate images and in its center is...Johann Strauss Jr called Schani. Unreal and too elegant as it may seem, Strauss is, after all, a Viennese composer. Let me focus on the protagonist. But is it Schani Strauss, a waltz or rather both inseparably that constitute the movie's charm?

Depicted by Fernand Gravey, Schani does not clearly deliver the revolutionary aspect of his personality and his music. Obviously there is no single mention of the conflict with his father, Johann Strauss Sr (known mostly for his Radetzky March), there is no depiction of his hard way to becoming a self made composer. Fired by the banker Wertheimer, Schani feels free because he is not to make money but glorious music. But all this makes him a more 'romantic,' so to say, hero. Combined with the context of 1848, he is not a sort of pacifist (as it was far the case of these movies) but a musician full of zeal of leading people to the world of his music, the charm of his waltzes. In this way, Strauss and his music are inseparable.

Interestingly, the action takes place at the beginning of his career. And yet, we hear all of his waltzes from THE BLUE DANUBE to KAISERWALTZ. The movie is, therefore, separated from historical chronology but everyone stops to care about that. We like that because Strauss is far from any realism in portrayal and far from saccharine idealization...somewhere in between...where could that be better achieved if not with women at his side?

Luise Rainer as Poldi, Schani's wife, is placed in contradictory character-depiction with Carla Donner played by Miliza Korjus, an actress of partly Polish ancestry. Both women differ considerably but both constitute inspiration for Schani. While singer Carla Donner (with some magnificent moments of her songs) reveals extravaganza, Poldi strikes us with considerable naiveness. 'You told me you love me' seems to evoke above all in her attitude. In rivalry, perhaps, and moments of concord and acceptance, they both will have to face each other in the most unpredictable situations. Among scenes that Miliza Korjus and Fernand Gravey share together, a mention must be made of Wienerwald scene (scene in Vienna Woods) and the spontaneous, charming composition of the famous waltz. The Coachman, foremost, provides great touches of humor inevitable in a movie of this sort.

With the visual aesthetics of the movie come the elaborate sets, very beautiful choreography and exquisite gowns by Adrian (known for Garbo movies). Subtle scenes of growing enthusiasm whilst composing blend with public events, the most important of which appears to be the debut performance at Dommayer's.

The finale is, however, something that appears to be quintessential for what Johann Strauss' music has meant to Vienna for all these years. Partly humorous and partly serious, but above all, a jubilant conclusion in the tribute to the King of Waltz and his meeting with the emperor remain in the memory for long. But if you have not seen it yet? You indeed have something to look forward to...a beautiful movie ahead of you.
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Anti-Nazi Musical Propaganda
tensaip4 August 2004
Everyone who has commented on The Great Waltz (1938) has entirely missed the movie's raison-d'etre -- to protest the "ANSCHLUSS" (annexation) of AUSTRIA by NAZI Germany on 03/13/1938. With that in mind its theatrical release date of 11/04/1938 makes the political intentions of The Great Waltz rather blatant. Since Hitler was in 1938 merely warlike and not war waging, Hollywood (or the Jews dominating the film industry at any rate) had to make their protest films sneakily, or in this case allegorically.

In this mythical Hollywood version of Austria (which would persist well into the 1960's), the Viennese want nothing more from life other than eating food, drinking wine, and dancing to waltz (and occasionally polka) music. Ahh ... it's hard to believe this is the same autocratic Empire which produced World War 1 (and Adolph Hitler) in Strauss' lifetime!

Since America was pseudo-isolationist with a populace which prided itself on having poor historical memory, it was necessary for Hollywood to construct this mythical Austria in order to control the perception of just what the Austrian people were REALLY all about and so unlike those march-stepping Germans across the border. THE GREAT WALTZ (1938) is therefore an allegorical work meant to lament the seemingly permanent absorption of this mythical, freedom-fighting, waltzing, polka-ing Austria into Hitler's pan-Germanic blob.

This allegorical STRAUSS, Jr. represents the Austrian soul, or at the very least the Viennese soul. His wife Poldi Vogelhuber is implicitly Jewish and actress Luise Rainer really was in fact a German Jew -- Poldi represents traditional Jewish integration into Austrian society. His mistress Karla Donner (how much more Teutonic can you name a gal?) is German and played by the very Nordic (ethnically Swedish) Miliza Korjus who nearly took the Academy award for her performance. The dilemma faced by Strauss in the film was to choose to remain in his lovably humble Vienna with his lovely demure Poldi or to follow Karla on her world tour and conquer the musical world. The dilemma faced by the real Austria in their 1938 Anschluss plebiscite was independent humility vs pan-German arrogance. Karla makes the choice for him and leaves him in Vienna; Hitler did the opposite and marched an army into Vienna, semi-forcibly uniting it with Germany. The denouement of the Great Waltz in which the Viennese population hold a massive demonstration showing appreciation to the elderly Strauss (in the presence of a very benign Kaiser Franz Josef) was intended to represent the world's appreciation for all of Austria's historical contributions to Western culture.

Duvivier scores the single greatest directorial achievement from Hollywood's Golden Age and it takes place in one single reel of this film. The reel in which Poldi finally convinces herself to follow Count Hohenfried's advice to fight for her marriage. Donning the gown Strauss has left for her, she rushes to the theater to confront Karla Donner only to abandon hope upon catching sight of the diva's godlike stage presence. Poldi enters the auditorium with face in close-up, but the camera starts moving away from her in a quick series of edits until she looks like a small doll in the doorway of a doll house. The camera suddenly cuts away from her in a long-distance shot at the entrance to a close-up of Karla on stage. Karla seemingly radiates sunlight from her long golden curls and sings with a voice thunderously awesome (as Rosalinde in DIE FLEDERMAUS). After several minutes documenting the stage number, the scene shifts to Poldi walking through the backstage area where to her unspoken dismay everyone knows exactly who she is and congratulates her on her husband's success. Poldi graciously acknowledges them but keeps on walking, walking and thanking, thanking and walking until she is alone out the back door and finally collapses into uncontrollable weeping.

If all the people worth interviewing weren't dead, I'd love to write about a book just about the diagramming of that single sequence and what went into it.
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Standard bio-pic but the music makes up for it
jjnxn-111 October 2013
Beautiful music interwoven throughout a standard script. The Vienesse Teardrop does well enough in her stock role of the long suffering put upon wife and as always she cries beautifully but Fernand Gravey is flat in the lead. The kind of picture where Strauss can compose Tales from the Vienna Woods just by taking a carriage ride through them with Miliza Korjus happily trilling away and suddenly without any struggle whatsoever have the whole thing ready for a performance at the end of said ride! A great deal of Strauss' music is here so that is a tremendous inducement but there is also quite a bit of operatic singing, if that's your cup of tea great, all others beware.
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Johann Strauss II in words and music
blanche-27 February 2009
Jules Duvivier directed this opulent, highly fictionalized musical film about Johann Strauss II. "The Great Waltz" stars Luise Rainer, Fernand Gravet and Miliza Korjus.

Strauss II married several times, but none of his wives were named Poldi Vogelhube. She is most likely modeled on Strauss' third and last wife. The Carla Donner character, with whom Strauss falls in love, did not exist. Strauss did form an orchestra, however, consisting of friends at the tavern, and did play at Dommayer's Casino. He also was involved in the revolution on the side of the revolutionaries.

None of these biographical facts are the point of this movie - it's about the beautiful music, the singing, and the romance. There it succeeds, and the film was an enormous success, especially in the European markets.

Luise Rainer gives a lovely performance as Poldi, who faces losing her beloved husband to another woman, and Gravet is an effective Strauss. Thalberg gave the European coloratura Korjus, who plays operatic diva Carla Donner, a contract on the basis of one of her recordings. We can assume it wasn't a recording of her singing Die Fledermaus.

Korjus was a good bet for Hollywood - she was beautiful, glamorous, a good actress and a good singer, with a few caveats. She had a lovely quality to her voice, glorious pianissimos, and her technique was adequate, but her coloratura high notes were straight and screechy. Her singing of Die Fledermaus toward the end of the film is massively off-pitch - it's surprising the recording was not re-done.

The best scene in the film is Strauss and Donner going through the Vienna Woods and Strauss coming up with the Tale of the Vienna Woods while listening to the birds and hearing the different rhythms as they travel. A very fun scene.

An incredibly expensive film with beautiful music, costumes and dancing.
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Charming Story, but Not Much Bio or Drama
Mike-76414 May 2003
Tells the story of Johann Strauss, II, from the times of him as a struggling composer to in his later years as the accomplished composer of Vienna, while meanwhile involved in the love triangle with his long suffering wife, Poli, and diva opera star, Carla Donner. As mentioned in the summary, this has little to do with the true life story of Strauss, but captures the essence of his music, which is timeless. Rainer is believable as Strauss' wife, Gravet has fun in his role of Strauss and gives a pleasing performance, Huber & Bois provide decent comic relief, but Korjus radiates and steals every scene she is in as Donner. Duvivier has fun with the musical aspects of the film, but his attempts at drama come off as appearing very weak. Ruttenberg's cinematography is exquisite and Tiomkin remarkably pulled off the task of arranging Strauss' waltzes & polkas into the main score. Rating- 7.
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Font Style Used In Movie's Written Tittles
Tony_777711 April 2009
This movie is certainly for all hopeless romantics. The music is so infectious, and compelling! The acting was well done(in my opinion) by everyone in the movie itself. From Curt Bois on....! Not just the big hitters. My favorite is Luise Rainer's role as the neglected, faithful, (somewhat insecure) wife of Johann Strauss. She deserved so much more from her cad husband; that it makes one's heart identify with her terrible mistreatment. Miliza Korjus had one of the greatest female opera singer soprano voices that I've ever heard! (e.g., They'll come a time). One thing that intrigues me is the "font" that is used in the movie's written titles. Would anyone know or recognize the 'Font' style that was used in the movie's written titles? Thanks!
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